Desnor Nicole Chigumba
Developing a Platform for the Systematic Discovery of Plant-Derived Compounds for Drug Development
Plants are an important source of medicines for a broad range of diseases. Traditionally, plant-derived medicines have been discovered through a process known as bioactivity-guided fractionation, which screens for bioactive chemicals in natural sources. However, this approach has several limitations including the potential need for large amounts of source material and largely nonspecific chemical discovery. My research focus is on building a platform to enable the systematic discovery of a specific class of plant-derived compounds known as cyclic peptides. Plant cyclic peptides have gained increasing attention due to their diverse functions including anticancer, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. My research uses a combination of plant genome mining and mass spectrometry analysis of plant extracts to discover new cyclic peptides. Subsequently, I test these peptides against human disease models to characterize their mechanism of action. This approach overcomes the bottlenecks of bioactivity-guided fractionation that have inhibited plant peptide discovery for drug development.
The PhRMA Foundation fellowship has enabled me to advance my research thesis and network with talented researchers. As an international student, there are very few fellowships I am eligible for. Being selected as an awardee is an incredible honor.